Curry shouldn’t just be for treat night, says cookbook author and Broadstairs-based former British Bake Off star Chetna Makan.
Broadstairs-based Chetna gets to the point. And that goes for her recipes - which are concise and require very few ingredients - as well as her conversation.
So with her new cookbook, Chetna’s Healthy Indian, the former Great British Bake Off contestant is immediately insistent that this is absolutely not a health book, and definitely not a diet book. Not at all.
“I am no expert,” says the 40-year-old. “I don’t have the right knowledge for a health book.”
Rather, this book, her third, is a considered, flavour-fuelled response to a question she finds herself asked repeatedly: ‘If you bake so much, why are you not the size of a house?’
Makan’s frank about having never dieted, and even when she was training to run the London Marathon last year, rather than tumbling into a pasta-only vortex of carb-loading, she “just carried on as normal” and continued to eat her usual quota of homemade cake. And yes, she did complete the 26.2-mile route: “I’m still here!”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian explores the “carried on as normal” part of her eating habits, and while she really does “love cake”, the India-born cook says: “My everyday food is really, really good for me, and that kind of balances it out - otherwise, it would be disastrous.”
Dinner at her house features the likes of chana dal with roasted aubergine, black eyed beans with cavolo nero, tamarind fish curries, spicy chicken and chickpea curry bakes, fried rice loaded with green veggies, and zingy chutneys and pickles. They’re dishes that also neatly and tastily debunk the idea that the word ‘curry’ only accounts for what you order in on the weekend.
“That is a big problem,” she says of the perception held by some, that Indian is purely takeout food - and, as a result, delicious, but probably bad for you. “People think, ‘Oh, let’s treat ourselves, have a curry on a Friday night’, which is absolutely ridiculous.”
“That’s not how it should be,” she says, adding that if you’re making one from scratch, curry can work any night of the week. If you’re still itching to place an order come the weekend, look in the fridge instead. “It is the best part, having little Tupperwares of leftovers from the whole week. On Saturday, take everything out - it works perfectly.”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian then offers short, snappy meal ideas that rely on fresh produce and easy-to-procure spices (“If I can find it in Broadstairs - where she lives with her husband and two children - everyone can find it”). I try and keep it to the minimum and don’t over-complicate.”
And there’s no need to huff at the idea of stocking up on new, obscure spices – you’re highly likely to have her staples tucked away somewhere in the cupboard, no matter their age.
Chetna’s Healthy Indian by Chetna Makan (photography by Nassima Rothacker) is published by Mitchell Beazley and costs £20.
* To see Chetna on KMTV to produce Kent Cooks, a countywide culinary adventure. Find out more here.